How do you cope with being a nurse?


I am currently taking my pre-reqs so that I can apply for an ADN program. I am not a traditional nursing student. I already have a bachelors in an unrelated field but decided i needed to make a career change. I am doing fine in my classes while working full time for now.

My concern is this. Does constantly being around pain, suffering, and death ever get to you? I mean, before i decided to take the plunge, I thought about what I would be exposed to every day and I kind of brushed it off as it not being that bad. Im not really squeamish or anything. But I do tend to empathize very whole heartedly to other people who are in pain and who are suffering. I can't help but not become saddened and depressed when I see tragic/traumatic things - the frailty of the human condition. My friend who is in his third year of med school tells me that you just get de-sensitized to it. But im sure this is something that is different with each individual. I know that it will drain me emotionally and I know how it will affect me. Knowing this, i am a bit apprehensive about my decision.

I suppose my question to the veteran and new RNs is, did you have the same thoughts before you went into the profession? How is it now that you've experienced these things? How do you cope with being around some rather unpleasant depressing stimuli all day? Thanks all.

leslie :-D

11,191 Posts

worse than death, is suffering.

while there will always be situations that are tragic, i cope w/it knowing i did everything in my power to alleviate any pain and anguish.

when my pts die peacefully, i am much more relieved than i am sad.

you will find your own way of coping.

knowing that you gave your pt 100% of your personal best, is what keeps me sane and afloat.


and many nurses have really sick humor.

we love to (and need to) laugh.

so yeah...

giving them your personal best and having really sick humor:

you'll be fine.



436 Posts

Specializes in CRNA.

When I first became a nurse, I couldn't wait to apply a nursing diagnosis to every patient I took care of. Then I realized physicians could care less about the whole NANDA gimmick. That is when the depression began. Now....I cry every night. I take a bucket full of prescription pills five times a day and see three different psychiatrists as well as one psychologist. The electroconvulsive therapy is going well, but I still get depressed when something bad happens at work.

Dude, nursing is a great profession. Depending on where you decide to work, you will have access to lots of cool drugs and toys that actually make people better. Well, sometimes they get better and sometimes you are only prolonging misery. Still, it is a lot of fun. Sure you will see some shady things and bad situations. My solution to that is to realize that I am not the one with the disease.

JB2007, ASN, RN

554 Posts

Specializes in LTC, Med-SURG,STICU. Has 5 years experience.

Coping with the pain, suffering, and death can be very draining. Some days, I feel like the life is be sucked right out of me. However, there are the days when I feel that I really make a difference in someone's life. I helped to ease there pain and suffering. The patient was able to die as pain free as possible and with dignity. The days that I make a difference make up for the bad days.

Dealing with death is hard. Each person has to learn how to deal with it in there own way. Many times the person is suffering so much that it is a blessing to see them go, so that they do not have to suffer any more. However, I work with the elderly and many are ready to go. I think it would be more difficult if I worked with a younger population.

The best way that I have found to cope is to leave work at work. I try to leave the bad, sad, and the heartbreaking things at work. Also, talking things out with a trusted co-worker helps too.

Good luck with nursing school and try to think about the good things about nursing.

jjjoy, LPN

2,801 Posts

Have you considered volunteering at a hospital in a role where you could be around the inpatients (that is not just greeting visitors in the lobby). While that's not the same as being a nurse, it would give you more experience to consider about yourself and how you might feel about working on a hospital unit than just a hazy guess of what it might be like.


490 Posts

Thanks for the replies all. I don't think volunteering will be much use. I'm not concerned with the shock or immediate reactions i could have to seeing these things. Im more concerned about the daily exposure I would have when I do it as a career. I guess a part of me is just afraid Id make another wrong career choice. But then I realize that there are so many different fields I can go into in the field of nursing so thats consoling....

Specializes in Flight, ER, Transport, ICU/Critical Care.

I think that you are very wise to be this "aware" going in -

I think that I was a bit unprepared - I, too, entered the profession from an "unrelated" industry. It took some effort and my coping can vary.

I make self care a priority. I also have found that I am healthier when I take steps to prevent stress effects. (Rest, exercise, humor, good food, avoid alcohol)

For me - this is the thing.

I am good at what I do. I have worked hard to be good at what I do. I still work to improve my clinical practice everyday - with every patient. If I am in need, I hope that I have someone like me taking care of me. I know that I am one of many that can do my job - but, I resolved that I wanted to do this work. It is a choice. If or when I do not want to do it - I can stop - no shame, no failure.

When you do this work - you join one big (often dysfunctional to the untrained eye :D) family. We know what you are dealing with , in many cases we are doing the same thing you are. We are here for one another - and that can make it easier to go forward. But, it comes down to the choice.

There will be times that it hurts, a lot. You will question yourself, others and possibly everything that you know, think you know or believe (I even had some faith issues over time). But then you will get to be privileged to a miracle and that will keep you going - it doesn't happen that often, but when it does - well, it is just amazing. And for me - that is enough. The rewards are few - but precious. Maybe they are not always dramatic, but they are still real. Relief of pain. Calming fears. Maintaining a safe environment.

I also remain very aware that I can STOP at anytime. I choose this, in spite of the risks - because this is what I do. You do get better over time at coping. I segment things better now. I still occasionally cry. I find that I am often on my knees in prayer and gratitude at times.

Somehow elderly trauma, children with cancer and anyone suffering gets to me. It upsets the natural order of things -

The show will go on with or without you. It is up to you if you want to be a part of it. It is NOT for everyone - but, if you are going rise up and be a part of it - resolve to be the best you can be.

Good Luck with whatever you choose.


Specializes in Flight, ER, Transport, ICU/Critical Care.

Also, I will note that there are many different areas of speciality.

There are folks that think I am nuts for doing my job. My sister does geriatrics and is awesome, she thinks that I am "messed up" to be doing what I do!!! I would not last a shift in her world!

There is something for everyone - that is the nice thing about nursing.

Remember it is still your choice.

Also, regardless of the field - resolve to make self care as important as any of the care that you provide to others.



412 Posts

I think about the aftermath of seeing so much sufferings and deaths, but then when I think of the effect of my actions to my patients, I


412 Posts

Excellent Question. I do ask myself ocassionally about the aftermath of seeing so much sufferengs and deaths, but when I think about the result of my interventions to my patients, I feel better. So I think more of the lives I save and the pains I relieve everyday that I work. And no, I did not think about this before going into nursing.

For you, if you think it is going to be a problem you can work in an out patient clinic or home care. And just remember that there multiple avenues in nursing that you can work without having any physical contact with patients.

My girlfriend who was an LPN could not stand seeing so much sufferings and death as a bedside nurse, so she left the hospital. She now works with a clinic that diagnose sleep disorders and the patients that she sees look just normal. She is very happy.


412 Posts

I think about the aftermath of seeing so much sufferings and deaths, but then when I think of the effect of my actions to my patients, I

disregard this, it is an errow


658 Posts

Specializes in CMSRN. Has 9 years experience.

I believe that having to be exposed will certainly change you.

It has for me. I really do not let things get to me anymore that are not important to me. I am calmer and appreciate things.

I guess what I am saying is, expect a change just realize you can make it a positive change.

Some nurses have a flat affect, some are crude and others overly emotional. But there is a flip side. It could bring out the best in you in everyday living.

To answer the question "how do you cope with being a nurse?".

-I find being with my pt's and learning about them has taught me how to cope, but not just with nursing, everything-

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